Man, 20, indicted on federal charges

Suspect in 3 killings accused of carjacking, weapons violations

January 25, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A 20-year-old Baltimore man suspected of shooting to death three unlicensed cabdrivers during a violent two-week spree in August was indicted yesterday on federal carjacking and weapons charges that could carry the death penalty.

Maryland's new U.S. attorney, criticized during his first months on the job by Mayor Martin O'Malley for not doing more to fight gun violence in Baltimore, said the case against Javas Hall is the kind that should be tried in the federal court system.

"You have three murders in 14 days with a short-barreled shotgun. It is a very serious case," U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio said. He said his office will play a key role in prosecuting violent crimes in the city: "And this is the role it's going to take."

The charges against Hall didn't quiet O'Malley's criticism yesterday, as he and the state's top federal prosecutor again traded barbs.

Hall has been charged in state court with three counts of murder in connection with the deaths of Matthew Kenney, 29; Kajali Samateh, 40; and Tony Rogers, 31. Investigators said each victim apparently picked up Hall as an unlicensed cab fare. They were taken from their cars at gunpoint and killed by single shotgun blasts to the chest, investigators said, and their cars were taken for joyrides and abandoned.

Hall, whose last address was in the 1500 block of E. Chase St. and who also has been identified as Javes Hall, pleaded innocent to the state charges. No arraignment date has been scheduled in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

In state court, prosecutors planned to seek a sentence of life without parole. But Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said it makes more sense to try Hall in federal court, where he could be sentenced to 60 years without parole on the weapons charges and the death penalty on the carjacking charges.

DiBiagio said prosecutors in his office have not decided whether they will seek the death penalty.

He and Jessamy appeared together at an afternoon news conference to announce the indictment against Hall, which was handed up yesterday by a federal grand jury.

Jessamy, who also has clashed with O'Malley, praised DiBiagio for providing her office with extra resources. She said she had witnessed his commitment to fighting crime in Baltimore when he served as an assistant federal prosecutor and handled several high-profile city carjacking cases.

"I believe his commitment to these kinds of cases has not wavered," Jessamy said. She said her office would continue to work closely with DiBiagio's to determine which court would offer the toughest punishment for violent city crimes. "I promise you, there will be more to come."

O'Malley has criticized DiBiagio for prosecuting in federal court fewer cases where felons are caught illegally carrying guns, an issue that also has long been championed by DiBiagio's closest political ally, U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican.

DiBiagio has said he raised the criteria for prosecuting felon-in-possession cases in federal court -- requiring that a city defendant in most cases have two prior convictions instead of one -- because a defendant with only one prior conviction could get a longer sentence in state court.

But O'Malley has persisted, saying federal authorities should be taking more cases. He said yesterday that the federal charges in the Hall case, while welcome, don't change the need for more prosecutions of lesser gun crimes.

"Taking one high-profile, slam-dunk murder case doesn't make up for retreating on federal gun cases," O'Malley said.

The mayor also has criticized DiBiagio for not attending meetings of a local court reform council. Asked at yesterday's news conference whether he planned to reverse course, DiBiagio said he would continue to meet directly with local police and prosecutors.

Hall's case came under scrutiny in October, when court records showed that police had Hall in custody in mid-August and was released just days before the second victim was killed.

On Aug. 21, Hall was charged with stealing a car and was released without bail to await trial. Court records showed that police knew the car belonged to a man who had been reported missing but did not question Hall about him at the time. The missing man turned out to be Kenney, the first of the three victims.

The second victim, Samateh, was killed Aug. 23, according to yesterday's indictment; Rogers, the third victim, was killed Aug. 28.

The killings occurred in the Clifton Park and Cedonia areas of East Baltimore.

A second man, Jason N. Lewis, 20, of the 3600 block of Garrison Blvd., also was charged with murder in state court in connection with the crimes. Authorities said yesterday that his case will remain in state court.

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